Blame it on the heat, but this Bird is feeling a summer rant coming on -- is there nothing unique or interesting in theaters this summer? No, I don't want robots accessorized with human actors, I'm getting a little sick of superheroes, and I am pretty much ready to hocus-pocus peace-out the boy wizard. Granted, I'll probably see a few of these in the theaters and then wish I'd spent the $10 on a couple of cocktails to beat the heat, but for the last couple of years, I've been making it a point to have my own J'adore-worthy summer movie season, but with classics.
Netflix is a little slow on the streaming front with older films, but I've been justifying our cable bill by staying tuned into the Turner Classic Movies channel, which shows classic films uncut, no commercials, and their programming format is brilliant, with film expert Robert Osborne presenting each film, giving it some context with history or trivia, and then recapping the experience at the end, describing how it influenced other films or how it launched actors' careers. I'm also a huge nerd-fan of their "guest programmers," where they'll invite film buffs like Alec Baldwin to design a movie playlist for the month, showing a mix of obscure favorites or golden classics. I like this channel; people are there because they really want to be and they have a genuine love of film as a storytelling medium. I love old films not because it's not just a cool hipster thing to say; if you truly love movies, you owe it to the classics to honor the storytellers who came before, from silent, to "talkies" to the magic of Technicolor, and realize how derivative and downright insulting some of the newer movies are to the art form. But it also makes you appreciate how good and smart some of the modern films are, because you can tell they were influenced by the masters and only wish to carry on that legacy of quality filmmaking.
One of the greatest storytellers is without a doubt David Lean. It's a big "no duh" that Lawrence of Arabia is amazing, but watching it again from beginning to end was a reminder that yes, it really is worth all the hype. And I not only believe it holds up to the current summer blockbusters, it blows them all out of the water. Maybe it stems from Lean being a skilled film editor; he had a miraculous ability to take these massive stories like Doctor Zhivago or Bridge on the River Kwai, and keep the focus on key individuals with a breathtaking backdrop of world history. Peter O' Toole is the most beautiful person you've ever seen, strolling through the desert sands, blue eyes blazing with intensity. In one of the most memorable scenes of Lawrence of Arabia, in a quiet moment before T.E. Lawrence's fame is realized, he's both curious and enamored of his own shadow cast along the sand, letting the sunlight filter through his robes; one part Narcissus, daring to romance the potential of one's future, another part witnessing the knowing hand of fate starting to guide this pillar towards a set destiny. Sure, call it just another book adaptation to screen, but this put a troubled, yet endearing face to Lawrence's memoirs, with the movie re-casting this controversial historical figure as a deeply conflicted soul that audiences could connect to and empathize with. The battle scenes are heroic and impressive, but they are always eclipsed by the most endearing aspects of the film, which is Lawrence's struggle to come to terms with life as a soldier and his swaying loyalties. Where action films now are just strings of mindless explosions and violence with short breathers of inane dialogue, Lawrence of Arabia has all the excitement and terror of war, but tempered with consequence. Plus, it's kind of refreshing to see huge battle scenes that aren't just pixels rendered in a computer, that hundreds of people gathered to reenact these incredible scenes and you just hoped the camera worked to capture it all on film. If nothing else, the pervasive use of computer graphics just makes you appreciate the human element of classic films, where the technology wasn't available, and filming these epics was about as invigorating as being in that moment in history. So make a date this summer to ditch the Decepticons, bail on Hogwarts, and watch something truly timeless.
Jaunty Fine Print: photos from IMDB.com